It was so easy to buy my kids toys when they were younger, but when they became middle schoolers I had no idea what they wanted!
Well, I did know they wanted tech, but wasn’t there other kinds of toys and gifts that middle schoolers would love?
So we did a ton of research.
I found gifts to encourage creativity, learning, self-discovery, reading, healthy eating, parent-child connection, and outdoor play.
And the best part?
All these are from Amazon, they all have a 4+ rating from tons of reviews and most are available through free 2-day prime shipping, so even if you are shopping at the very last minute, you might still be able to get them in time!
Editor’s Note: Also check out our other guides
Alright, here we go –
Gifts the Encourage Creativity
This art set really is deluxe. It has oil pastels, water color bricks, colored pencils, paint brushes and drawing pencils. Plus it comes in a large case to keep it all organized when it take it along with you.
Model building kits are wonderful for kids who have trouble accessing their more creative side. They take actual things – cars, airplanes, ships, etc – and the kids get to build them and paint them. It’s very satisfying and self-esteem building to make something out of a smattering of parts in a box.
Youtube videos are a unique way for kids to explore their creativity. They can write their own scripts for movies, make an informational video (like Crash Course), or put together an instructional video (like any of the knitting or cooking videos out there). Making these videos can be extremely empowering and really boost their self-confidence.
Light-up gloves are tons of fun for teens. They can experiment with them in the dark, use them as movie props, or make fun patterns at a school dance. Plus they can be used when they are walking home from school during the darker times of the year, making sure your teen is seen by passing cars.
We made tie dyed t-shirts during our yearly visit to summer camp. I was always disappointed when I ran out of t-shirts to dye. It was so much fun to pick out the different colors and twisting patterns I didn’t want to stop. This kit comes with 18 different colors and a guide with 8 different patterns to choose from.
If your teen loved to draw when they were little this is the book for them. It gives specific techniques and tips on how to make their drawings more accurate and life-like. This knowledge can stop them from getting discouraged and giving up drawing.
We have magnetic poetry on our fridge. It is so much fun to piece together poems and ideas and it’s even more fun to see what your children write. These magnets are a great catalyst for your child’s creativity.
Teens still like to color, but they don’t like the same coloring books that their younger siblings are into. Paw Patrol isn’t going to do it for a thirteen year old. This is why I was so happy the adult coloring craze hit. The pictures are so much more intricate and the complexity is appealing to older kids.
You might think all colored pencils are the same, but you would be wrong. Montessori schools everywhere recommend Prismacolor because the leads are softer allowing their work to appear more vibrant and the flow of the pencil on the paper to be more fluid. These are so nice to use they will definitely inspire your child’s creativity.
These are amazing. Oil-based paint in an easy-to-use pen form. You can use it to paint anywhere and on anything. Your teen can decorate their binder or backpack or even make a personalize gift for a friend or teacher.
Embroidery is another great way for your child to express their creativity. Embroidering allows them to make pictures out of thread and cloth. It can be taken along anywhere. Plus it helps them to further develop their fine motor control and mental focus.
If embroidery seems a bit daunting, think about getting your child a cross stitch kit. It appeals to those kids who need at little more structure and guidance with their creativity, as well as to those children who want to create intricate pictures.
This creativity box highlights the art in hammering and nailing. Kids can put in nails in a pattern and then run string around the nails to create pictures. Once they learn the basics they can use materials they find in the garage to design and create their own string art!
This is like two gifts in one. Your child will create their own yarn tree and then use it to organize their jewelry. It is simple to create, which leave your child feeling successful and empowered.
Tweens and teens crave self-expression. They also crave making their rooms a reflection of who they are and what they want to become. This poster kit not only does all of that, it also provides them with a daily inspiration to go out and be the best person they can be. I kind of wish I had this when I was 12.
I love this journaling set because it is set up to help your child learn how to bullet journal. (If you don’t know what that is, check out this youtube video.) Everyone has different organizational and journaling needs. This one has a bunch of other stuff in it – like washi tape, stamps, and stickers – to empower them to express their creativity in more ways than just getting words on the page. Perfect for your reluctant writer.
A great way to be creative AND thoughtful. Your child can make their own thank you, birthday, or holiday cards for their friends. Make someone’s day when they receive your child’s beautiful art in the mail.
Scrapbooks are so cute! They are even cuter when you flip through them after a few years. This scrapbook gives them everything they need to preserve what is important to them now and what will become precious memories later.
This kit isn’t just frames for your child’s pictures. It’s also a watercolor kit so they can create the art they hang on their walls. Or you can hang it in the living room for all your friends and family to enjoy!
It’s creative science! This kit comes with shea butter, coconut butter, and essential oils and everything else your kids need to make their own lip balm. They can make it for themselves or they can make it as a gift for their friend.
More creative science! And this kit makes these bath bombs so easy to make. The essential oils are 100% pure and it comes all the ingredients necessary. Once they have made a few of these they’ll feel more empowered to try other science kits.
These temporary tattoos are so glam! They are metal and jewel tones – definitely more grown-up looking that the cartoon images every preschooler loves to wear. And since they are temporary your kids can have multiple opportunities for self-expression.
These aren’t little kid dollhouse kits. These are very detailed and ornate. The kit includes objects that attract more mature tweens and teens who want to create a more realistic dollhouse. There are several other rooms you can buy, too.
Gifts that Encourage Learning
If you join this STEM Club your child will receive an amazing toy every month that will allow them some serious hands-on science, technology, engineering, and math learning. They could receive anything from an electronic lab kit to gear-filled windmill kit.
Legos aren’t just for little kids. For our tweens and teens there is Lego Technic. This set guides your child through building a one-person helicopter, but there are so many more! My oldest son has the car that you can pull back and let it run forward.
This is a legit robot. It has sensors in it to help it perform tasks like obstacle avoidance and line-follow. It is easy to build and can be controlled by remote or smartphones. Plus you can code, for real, on the mBlockly App which is a great beginning coding platform.
This kit is so awesome. As it teaches you how to build one thing, you are learning how to build anything you want. You can build doodling robots and power electric model cars. Plus you can take the motor that comes with this kit and add it to your Legos!
This is such a cool toy! It’s a sleek drone that your child can build themselves. And then they can race them with their friends. This is a great for learning about STEM while having a really fun time.
This kit has everything your child needs to build a real FM radio receiver. They even get to solder their circuits to the circuit board which will help them build the confidence they need to start building their own computers.
This? Is truly amazing. Your tween can actually build their own computer. And then they can play the Raspberry Pi edition of Minecraft. This toy was the Tech Toy of the Year in 2018. It teaches kids how technology works and empowers them to invent their own tech items.
Another wonderful Lego STEM toy for tween and teens. The kit comes with incredibly detailed instructions and the Lego pieces needed to connect with the Legos you already have to make these machines.
This is a challenging word game that helps kids build their vocabulary and pattern recognition skills. It is a fun game to connect over during your family game night.
Fun and challenging! This is a hands-on logic puzzle that teaches kids about grit, problem solving, and critical thinking. And because it is paper, you can take it anywhere to fight off boredom.
I fell in love with these escape room games back in the late 1990s when the internet was young (and so was I). They went from the computer into the real world. And now they are coming into your home. This kit comes with 4 scenarios complete with rooms, clues, puzzles, and a countdown. A whole new way to do family game night.
Your child can now build their own safe with a real working combination-lock. The kit comes with wood that they assemble to make not only the safe, but the locking mechanism. You don’t even need glue! It teaches about engineering, problem solving, and logic.
This is just like the puzzle box in the book The Da Vinci Code. You line up the letters to make a word and unlock the box. Inside the box you can put money, a clue to a large puzzle, or something else as a gift to your child. This toy develops their grit, problem solving skills, and creative thinking.
A different kind of puzzle box that acts as the gift wrapping as well as the gift. You stick money inside of it and to unlock it your child has to roll the ball around through the maze to the trigger slot. Then they can save the box to keep their most precious treasures safe and secure.
Like a Rubik’s cube, but more. This is such a complex puzzle cube, it will keep your child busy for hours and hours. And along the way it will help them develop grit and tenacity, problem-solving skills, and self-confidence.
A real must-have if you have a kid interested in scientific discovery. This kit comes with ready-made slides, two different strengths of optic lenses, plus blank slides so your kids can mount their own tiny objects.
This is an amazing electronics kit. It contains the base component you need for some very serious devices, like servos and computer boards. This is really everything you need if your child is serious about engineering and computers.
Gifts that Encourage Reading
Wattpad is your child’s entry into a world of books, stories, and fan fiction. They are FREE and right at your child’s fingertips. The stories are written by famous authors and by kids just like your child. Who knows? Maybe your child will become a published author!
Kindle puts a whole library in your pocket. Your child can bring all their favorite books, magazines, and comic books on any trip or outing. Kindle has a special print technology that prevents eye strain and can be read in the dark or in low light.
One of the best gifts my oldest ever got was a subscription to a comic book. It comes every month reminding him that he is special. When it arrives he rips open the package and immediately reads it. Then he wants to go to the library and check out more books.
A reading light can be your reader’s best friend. This one clips right to their book, allowing them to read in the bed or in the car after dark. Plus it can straighten out and serve as a bookmark.
Has your child ever dreamed about writing their own comic book? Lulu Jr. can help them. This is an 18-page template that guides them through drawing and writing their own comic book story. And then you send it off to be professionally published.
A great book can hook kids into being a life-long book lover. John Green is the author of several fantastic books, one of which is The Fault in our Stars. It has a captivating story with characters children can empathize with. And when they finish this book they can go on to another John Green book.
Do you have a reluctant reader? One secret is audiobooks. A skilled narrator reads the books and makes the book feel more interactive. The Harry Potter series has a wonderful narrator who does all the voices and dramatizes the book. Once they have heard the book, kids might feel more able to sit down and read it.
The Heroes of Olympus series is the continuation of the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. It has the same breathless action and complex plots as his earlier works. In this book we are introduced to the Roman side of the gods and the complications of unlikely team work.
After reading a chapter at his friend’s house, my oldest son just added these to his Christmas list. They are full of action, rich characters, and engaging plot. If your child is a fan of fantasy these are great books to give a try.
This is a captivating look at the gods and culture of Ancient Egypt. Instead of being demi-gods, like in Rick Riordan’s other books, the Kane siblings are magicians who can channel the powers of the Egyptian gods. In this trilogy they team up with others to fight an ancient evil by using their magic and their intelligence.
Jenny Han is reviving the genre of teen romance. The first book is a delightful book about what happens when some secret letters expressing Lara Jean’s very intense crush feelings make their way to the guys she has fallen for over the years. I found them all funny, touching, and uplifting.
These are more of self-help kind of books than novels. They guide kids through a series of activities and instructions for how to control their intense emotions. Sometimes kids feel really big emotions and don’t know what to do with all those feelings. These books can help. Other books help with overcoming OCD, anxiety and more.
Our middle school uses this as part of their literacy groups. It is a touching story of a girl living in Munich who is trying to survive WWII. She finds books and she can’t resist bringing them home. As she shares them with her neighbors and the Jewish man her family is hiding. She is also bringing them hope.
I cried when I read Wonder. It’s one of those novels that worms its way inside you and leaves you better person for having read it. It teaches children about empathy, trust, and friendship while they read the incredible story of August Pullman.
S.E. Hinton wrote this book when she was only 16 years old. It made writing a book seem possible to my 12 year old self and not something reserved only for adults. The story is captivating as you follow Ponyboy come of age as he tries to navigate a world in which he and his friends are outsiders.
Ghost is the story about what happens when a kid meets the right mentor at the right time. It is inspirational and leaves the reader with an uplifting feeling and a desire to read more.
My son and his friends fell into these books and haven’t yet emerged. Ender’s Game is considered a classic of science fiction writing. It deals with coming of age, the burden of being gifted, and learning how to stand up for what you believe in.
This is a wonderful example of how a graphic novel can delicately illustrate the issues of race and growing up in America. It also is a touching story of how four kids from different backgrounds can become the best of friends. This is perfect for kids who might be reluctant to read a long novel, but who we, as parents, want to read about deeper topics.
#1. Looking for more books? Check out our list of 20 Awesome Children’s Books About Resilience (Sorted by Age).
#2. Got a child who resists reading? Gently pull them into the world of books by letting them listen instead of reading. Try an audible membership with over 100,000 audiobook titles the whole family can enjoy including popular kids books such as the Harry Potter series, Wimpy Kid series and more!
Gifts that Encourage Cooperative Play
This one is really, really fun! We love capture the flag, but at night time? With glow-in-the-dark bracelets and balls it adds a whole different layer of excitement to capture the flag. It’s perfect for parties with lots of kids or it can be a great kid vs. adult game. It teaches team building and strategy while running off loads of energy.
There is a reason every twelve year old has a laser tag birthday party. It is incredibly fun and gets the kids to run around. This is another great game for building teamwork and strategy. But this time in your own backyard!
I was a huge D&D nerd in high school. And it was so much fun. It bonded me with my high school friends, tested my quick thinking, and developed my problem solving skills. And when I started planning my own adventures it honed my story-writing and -telling skills. This starter set comes with dice, ready-made characters, blank character sheets, a player’s guide, and an adventure all ready to play.
Ring Toss is a fun game to play with friends or alone. This board mounts to the wall and your child practices the right kinds of throws that will hook the rings on the pegs. Each peg is worth points making it a fun and friendly competition with their friends.
Thanks to the USA Men’s Curling Team’s win in Korea curling has become popular. If you can’t make it to an ice rink that has curling stones this is the next best thing. You try to slide your little stones up the “ice” and into the house. You can play in teams or against each other for an amazingly fun time.
Gifts that Encourage Healthy Eating
One of the ways to convince tweens and teens to eat healthy is to teach them how to cook. Shows like MasterChef Junior have shown just how much a kid can do in the kitchen. This cooking set from the show has stirring spoons, tongs, measuring cups and spoons, a bowl, a cutting board, and an apron – just the equipment your child needs to get their start as a chef.
Another thing any budding chef needs is a cookbook. This cookbook is great for those kids who already have the basics down and want to take their skills up a notch. The recipes are what I would consider gourmet and will impress any dinner guest.
This cookbook is great for beginners. The authors define some basic cooking vocabulary and go through some of the science behind cooking and baking. This book has recipes for snacks, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and desserts. And they are all recipes your child will love to eat!
You can’t teach your kids to cook without teaching them how to cut up their ingredients. These knives have a special serrated blade that cuts most fruits and veggies, but won’t cut your skin. They are a great way for kids to build their dexterity and confidence before you let them handle the real thing.
Gardening is a big part of cooking. Growing your own herbs is a good first step to take in beginning your own cooking garden. The herbs provided are very popular cooking ingredients. You will be amazed at what a difference fresh herbs can make.
This is the ultimate decorating kit. It comes with piping bags, a ton of tips, spatulas and cake scrapers. I bake and decorate a lot of cakes and over the years I collected all these different pieces. This is a great price for everything you will need to make the most beautiful cakes.
Does your child like sushi as much as mine? Then you need this sushi making kit. You can make lovely maki rolls without actually having to roll them. I make mine vegetarian or with cooked meats, but you can put anything inside your rolls. It’s great for making a fun and healthy lunch.
Do your kids love helping you cook but balk at the idea of chopping onions (like our editor Sumitha’s daughter)? This chopper might be the answer. They can easily use the lever to push through things like onions or peppers. This makes cooking prep quick and fun. Plus they get to build the self-confidence by helping out on a very necessary household task.
Another way to get your kid to help and have fun in the kitchen is with this orange juicer. It is simple to use and it gets a lot of juice out of the orange. And fresh juice is so healthy to drink! Plus it can be used for lemons, limes, and grapefruit.
We have this exact apple slicer at our Montessori school. It makes it possible to slice an apple without a knife and without worrying if your kids have the dexterity to take out the core with a knife. This slicer does all that for you in one simple push. Kids can make their own snack or help to cut up fruit for lunch or a salad. It builds their confidence and encourages them to eat healthy.
Eggs are so good for you! They are just full of protein! I love to take a hard boiled egg and put it onto a salad. But they are tricky to cut up with a knife. This egg slicer can allow your children to cut up the egg by themselves. This boosts their self-esteem and it makes them more likely to try the egg.
I know we are sharing a lot of kitchen gadgets here, but there is a reason. Cool gadgets make hanging out in the kitchen, and eventually learning to cook, fun for kids! And for us parents, these are great opportunities to steer our kids gently into making healthy choices and having those conversations about healthy eating. For our final entry into this list, we have this cool avocado slicer. This is a special slicerthat allows you to cut open the avocado (a great healthy addition to any meal) and remove the pit without a trip to the ER. The other end has a scooper that bring out the flesh and also neatly cuts the avocado into perfect slices.
Gifts that Encourage Parent-Child Connection
This is a family card game that teaches your child (and the whole family) about mindfulness skills. These skills can help everyone in your family learn how to handle stress, anger, and frustration, which can help increase your family bond.
This is a game that fosters parent-child bonding by encouraging people to talk with their heart. It creates an environment of positive talking and active listening that can help build a better pathway of communication between you.
Sometimes it’s a little hard to feel like I’m reaching my sons emotionally. At around twelve they start to become quieter about their fears, concerns, and joys. This journal is a way to establish that connection without feeling like you are prying. This is a journal you keep together. We record memories together, share parts of our day and explore our common interests. We learn about each other and can connect on a deeper level.
This will become a family keepsake. This journal is for both you and your daughter to share hopes, dreams, memories, and secrets back and forth. It will bring you closer together while leading them on a journey of self-discovery.
Gifts that Encourage Self Discovery & Self Care
Self-Compassion – I Don’t Have To Feel Better Than Others To Feel Good About Myself by Simeon Lindstrom
Does your child struggle with the balance between building their own self-esteem while not tearing others down in the process? There is a difference. It is possible to feel good about yourself while helping others to feel their self-worth, too. This book can take your child through the whole process of handling their self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy while appreciating what others are achieving.
There is something about a leather journal that makes what you put in there feel special. And if you love your journal you are more likely to use it. Journaling is one of the best ways to get to know yourself and to express your dreams, hopes, joys, and disappointments.
A journal for the rebel in all of us. This journal encourages kids to draw, rip, tear, and otherwise wreck this journal. It can be freeing to write outside the lines for once. Plus it can be a great growth mindset builder as they write their worst mistakes and then color all over them.
Gratitude is one of the things parents most want to cultivate in their children. One of the ways to do that is to have your children journal about the things – big and small – they are grateful for every day.
Journaling is a wonderful way to express yourself and discover who you are. For kids, it’s really important they have a safe place to share their worries and questions. This journal is a great place to share these worries and discoveries.
Sometimes a soothing bath is just what the doctor ordered. Bath bombs fizz and release a scented steam that will help relax away a rough week at school, or celebrate the end of a term you worked so very hard at.
Yoga is a wonderful stress-buster. This kit has the mat, blocks, towels, and stretch belt needed to safely perform all yoga poses. And it comes in a neat bag for talking it all to the studio for a class! It’s the perfect gift for the budding teen in your life.
Aromatherapy can help the body relax. If you are having a hard time getting to sleep a couple of drops of lavender can soothe you into slumber. It can also help pep you up if you need to study. A great gift for you and your child.
I used these when I am in Savasana after yoga. The gentle pressure and scent of lavender helps to relax me and I come out of my meditation feeling rested and rejuvenated. This is great for kids who are having trouble falling to sleep at night.
I wish I could be there all the time to whisper encouragement to my boys. This bracelet is the next best thing. It is engraved with the saying, “You are Braver than you Believe; Stronger than you Seem; and Smarter than you Think.” They can look down at any time and know that I believe in them. This company has several other bracelets with messages about friendship, believing in yourself and more, plus options for choosing a different look such as gold tone, rose gold etc., so pick the one best suited for your gift recipient.
My kids both listen to audio books or music to fall asleep or to inspire them as they journal. This is a blue tooth speaker that can pick up the books and music from their phones – no CDs necessary. And it has a soothing faint light in case they are still insecure about being in total darkness.
This is seriously cool – you are going to want it for yourself. The Echo Spot hooks into your Alexa to play music, weather updates, keep your to-do lists straight, and listen to audio books – all with just your voice. It also makes video calls so your kids can keep in touch with their friends and grandparents. (Note: This keeps going in and out of stock, so try this alternate link if the above links shows as unavailable)
Gifts that Encourage Outdoor Play
Skateboarding is great exercise that helps kids develop balance, core strength, and a sense of independence. And as they try to learn to do tricks it becomes a wonderful tool to help them develop grit and tenacity.
Roller blades are so much fun. You can use them on the sidewalk or even in a skating rink if you are lucky enough to have a roller skating place near you. Plus, if you grab a hockey stick and a ball and you have a pick-up game of street hockey with your friends!
Bikes are often a kid’s first taste of freedom and achievement. Mountain bikes are sturdy enough to take that freedom off paved paths and onto the dirt trails of the woods. It takes their grit development and gross motor skills to a different level.
Are you worried about your child riding their bikes to school as the days get shorter and shorter? These bike wheel lights can give your child’s bike the visibility necessary to keep them seen. Plus it comes in fun colors so they can make their bike look extra cool.
It’s a ball you can play with under the water! The water you add to the inside of the ball gives it the density to have it sink just a little. You can play basketball or dodge ball with it while you are underwater. It is perfect for the summer weather.
My son thinks this is SO COOL. It’s got wireless headphone inside the beanie that can play their music or audio books while they are wearing a hat. This let’s them take their music with them wherever they want and there are no headphone to lose or get tangled. And it comes in 8 different colors!
If your child is an athlete they probably want to keep track of their workouts, steps, and heart rate. This can help them train more safely and it ensure you know how many calories they should be eating everyday. Plus it’s a watch with the calendar date!
Another great item for your athlete children – or kids going through a growth spurt. These reusable bottles come with a metal ball whisk inside of it to help keep their smoothies and protein shakes from separating and becoming gross and grainy. They are dishwasher safe so your child can pop them into the washer when they are finished!